Newly named judge Liberal party donor
Lawyer Andrew Sanfilippo donated almost $1,900 from March 2016 to March 2017
OTTAWA— A Toronto lawyer who was recently appointed as a Superior Court judge donated more than $1,800 to the governing federal Liberal party in the months before he was named to the bench, a string of giving that included the purchase of a ticket to a fundraising dinner.
Between March 2016 and March 2017, Andrew Sanfilippo gave $1,878.87 to the Liberal party.
The founding partner at the downtown law firm O’Donnell, Robertson & Sanfilippo became a judge in late June and the government announced his appointment July 18.
According to online records from Elections Canada that go back to 2006, Sanfilippo’s first political contribution was $478.87 on March 31, 2016. He acknowledged in a statement through a Superior Court spokesperson that this was for a Liberal fundraising dinner — the same price as tickets for a dinner with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that was hosted by the Torys LLP law firm on April 7, 2016.
The fundraiser drew controversy at the time, with Conservative MPs decrying how the minister was soliciting partisan money from stakeholders in her portfolio. Ottawa’s ethics commissioner Mary Dawson highlighted the event in her 2016 annual report, and determined that while it raised “questions about the appropriateness of the way the fundraisers were organized,” it did not break Parliament’s ethics rules.
It is not unusual for judicial appointees to have made political donations, nor does it break any rules.
In his statement through the court spokesperson, Sanfilippo stated that he did not actually attend the fundraising dinner, and that he bought the ticket after being solicited by a legal colleague.
“He has never met, spoken to, or communicated with Minister Jody WilsonRaybould, and believes that he has never attended any Liberal fundraising event,” the statement said.
Sanfilippo went on to donate $299 to the party on Dec. 5, 2016 and then $701on Dec. 30 — meaning he gave the party $1,478.87 in 2016. He also gave $400 in March of this year.
Individuals cannot donate more than $1,550 to a political party each year, according to federal law.
David Taylor, a spokesperson for Wilson-Raybould, said in an emailed statement that Sanfilippo was appointed on the recommendation of the government’s judicial advisory committee in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as after consulting the Chief Justices of Ontario and the Ontario Superior Court.
“At no point during the judicial appointment process was Justice Sanfilippo’s po- litical donation history considered,” Taylor wrote.
“His merit was assessed based on the strength of his judicial application, the totality of his career and expertise.”
Judges are technically appointed by the governor general, who acts on the advice of cabinet and the justice minister, according to the department’s website. The government overhauled its judicial appointment process last October, explaining at the time that they would make the regional committees that consider applications for appointments more diverse and independent.
Using the Elections Canada online database of contributions, the Star found that 13 people with names and locations matching those of new judges appointed this year by Ottawa have donated money to political parties since 2006. Of these, two involved contributions to the Conservatives, and the rest were to the Liberal party.
The government has appointed 58 judges this year.
Richard Devlin, a professor of law at Dalhousie University and co-author of the recent book Regulating Judges, said that the government should consider a “cooling off period” so that people applying for political appointments would have to refrain from making partisan donations for a certain period before they can be selected.
“You don’t want to say people can’t be politically active, but there is certainly the optics (problem) of large cash donations prior to one’s appointment,” he said.
Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer who led the 2013 challenge that rejected one of Stephen Harper’s Supreme Court appointments, said he believes politics has been part of the judicial appointment process for years.
He pointed to an example unearthed by the left-leaning Broadbent Institute in 2015 that raised concerns about judicial appointments by then-justice minister Peter MacKay for people with whom he had partisan or personal ties.
“The whole system should be raising your eyebrows right to the back of your head,” Galati said.
Malcolm Mercer, an adjunct professor who teaches judicial ethics at Osgoode Hall law school, said he doubts public confidence is affected by the few lawyers who make donations and are appointed as judges.
“We should be encouraging participation in our democratic process rather than seeing political involvement as a bad thing,” he said. “It is more important to focus on appointing talented judges with diverse perspectives.”
The Liberal party’s cash-for-access fundraising practices came under intense scrutiny last year, when opposition critics assailed the government for its practice of holding private events where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet would meet donors who paid sometimes hundreds of dollars to attend.
In April, the Liberal party started publicly announcing these events in advance and has also started posting guest lists online. Party spokesperson Braeden Caley said in an emailed statement that the other major parties in Ottawa haven’t followed suit.
“We should be encouraging participation in our democratic process rather than seeing political involvement as a bad thing.” MALCOLM MERCER ADJUNCT PROFESSOR AT OSGOODE LAW SCHOOL
Andrew Sanfilippo also bought a ticket to a Liberal fundraising dinner.